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Face to face with refugees

InReview

A travelling art exhibition aims to raise awareness of human rights and cultural diversity through the portraits and stories of refugees living within the community.

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Nineteen-year-old Murtaza Hussaini is a second-year Visual Art student at UniSA. He is also an Afghani refugee, who came to Australia from Pakistan in 2009 when he was 12 years old.

In 2014, when Hussaini was studying SACE Art at St Michael’s College, he and two other Australian Refugee Association volunteers – Sue Thompson and Kirsten Treloar – decided to create a portrait exhibition about people from a refugee background.

“The initial aim of the exhibition was to raise awareness about refugees living among the community and to dispel the misconception about them being a threat to people’s lives,” explains Hussaini, pictured in the self-portrait above, second from left.

“At the same time I realised art that is created about victims of war, though not officially war art, is just as important because the faces in the portraits belong to people whose lives are directly linked to war.

“The portraits tell the personal stories of the refugees to the wider community.”

The Australian Refugee Association Portrait Exhibition has been running annually since 2014, with Hussaini exhibiting his works alongside those of a number of other refugee and resident artists.

This year the exhibition will showcase the drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptural works of 15 artists, including three new Afghani refugees. The artists find someone with a refugee background from within the community to be the subject of their artwork.

“The artist not only creates a portrait of that person, but they also interview the person about their life and make a small biography that goes with the artwork,” explains Hussaini.

“The Portrait Exhibition educates people about refugees because there’s a small story with each portrait, explaining who they are and how they came to be living among us.

“This year I drew a friend of mine, Bez, who is from Afghanistan. He came here much younger than I was; he saw his father for the first time when he was five years old.”

This new work will be included in the exhibition along with more than 20 other works which will travel around different community centres throughout metropolitan Adelaide for 12 months. All of the artworks are for sale.

Hussaini says the Australian Refugee Association Portrait Exhibition is well supported, with “lots of people from many different backgrounds” attending.

“Art is one of the best ways to create multiculturalism.”

The 2016 Australian Refugee Association Portrait Exhibition runs at the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, UniSA City West Campus until July 11 before moving to other centres.

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‘Erbil from Syria’ by Murtaza Hussaini. Photo: supplied

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‘Syed Ali Shah from Afghanistan’ by Murtaza Hussaini. Photo: supplied

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